Wednesday, June 10, 2015

June Bugs 2015: Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)

If you've ever taken a film class, then you've heard of the auteur theory. If haven't heard of it, auteur theory holds that just like a written work has an "author," so does a film. Now, if you know even the barest amount about movie making, you know that just one film--from the cheapest indie production to a Hollywood mega-blockbuster--is a hugely collaborative effort. Still, auteur theory usually holds that a film has an author and that author is the director.

Now, there are some outliers. Some will argue, as you might expect, that the screenwriter is the auteur, or maybe the executive producer, or the cinematographer--you know, the person who is responsible for how a film looks. And obviously some directors are easier to argue as auteurs than others: John Carpenter is an auteur because he writes, directs, and often composes the music; Stanley Kubrick was an auteur because you know when you're watching a Kubrick film; Joe Dante is an auteur because his works so often touch on the same themes and motifs.

Meanwhile, almost nobody would call Tobe Hooper or Jonathan Frakes an auteur. That's not an insult to Hooper or Frakes, because being an auteur doesn't automatically make you a good director or mean that your movies are always going to be good. It just means that, as a director, you don't have any quality that can make an audience go, "Yes, truly, this is a Jonathan Frakes film!"

So right about now you're wondering, "What the hell does auteur theory have to do with Godzilla, you pompous twit?" Well, first of all, Godzilla movies are still movies. Just because the Academy will never recognize one for an award, because they're too busy heaping praise on white guilt assuagers and the occasional rock-stupid blockbuster that has a "legitimate" director behind it, doesn't mean that Godzilla movies just pop out of the ground fully-formed like potatoes or Uruk-hai. Which means there is actual potential for an auteur to appear in the genre.

Oh, sure, it's still rather a rare event. Ishiro Honda is an obvious auteur. You could always tell when he was directing, even when it was something seemingly outside of his usual wheelhouse like Godzilla's Revenge. Jun Fukuda, on the other hand, is more of a default assumption. "Oh, Honda didn't direct this one? Must have been Fukuda, then." After the series' revival in 1984, forget it. Can you tell the difference between a Takao Okawara film and a Kazuki Omori one? I'm obsessed with Godzilla and I sure as hell can't.

However, there were still some auteurs waiting in the wings. I'm not talking about Shusuke Kaneko or Ryuhei Kitamura: those two were brought on as directors for the series specifically because of the kinds of films they were known for, so I don't need to argue for their status. No, I'm talking about Masaaki Tezuka.

Tezuka came onto the Godzilla series with today's film, and he delivered two more after that. All three films share common themes such as a strong female protagonist, the misuse of technology, the need to prove one's self, and the sins of the past being put right. All three films feature the music of Michiru Oshima--the first woman composer of the series, to my knowledge--and a recurring collaboration with a composer is a common aspect of an auteur.

However, as I said before, just because someone is an auteur does not mean that they automatically make good movies.

As with any Godzilla movie, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus needs to start by making sure we understand what continuity we're following. Well, actually, this film was probably the first one that had to do that. The Showa films all basically followed the same continuity from 1954 until 1975, excluding the bizarre outliers Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla's Revenge. When the series was rebooted in 1984 for the Heisei series, it ignored all but the original 1954 film and then continued on in its new continuity--the only monkey wrench in the works being the fact that a time travel plot in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah made the following films' continuity nigh incomprehensible because not every film remembered that plot line.

However, the third distinct series of Godzilla films, the Millennium series, was kicked off in 1999 by Godzilla 2000 as a desperate bid to erase the first American fiasco from public consciousness. It was supposedly another reboot, but the film's plot in no way required that you read it that way. It could just as easily be a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. For some reason Toho decided that the film's follow-up should be another reboot. In fact, every film in the Millennium series is a reboot--with one notable exception.

Sadly, Sony didn't copy this model with their second Spider-Man series or we might have been spared The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Well, naturally, if you're going to go the route of just throwing out continuity whenever you feel like it, you need to establish what continuity you do have. Usually the answer is just, "Well, in 1954 Godzilla destroyed Tokyo and was killed, but now we have another one to deal with." Godzilla vs. Megaguirus proves to be the first to do something slightly different. By which, I mean they recreate some of the footage from the original Godzilla with this movie's suit--which is the same as the Godzilla 2000 suit, although there do seem to be some subtle differences that I can't put my finger on--and use that as a set-up for a big exposition bomb.

"I'm not addicted! I can stop eating these things any time I want!"
This is all delivered, in easily the best part of the film, via mock Newsreel footage. The Newsreel explains that Godzilla came ashore and wrecked Tokyo, before returning to the ocean. There was apparently either no Oxygen Destroyer in this continuity, or Dr. Serizawa actually kept his secret, because Japan decided to just rebuild Tokyo and move the capitol to Osaka--and I mean that literally, as we see the Diet Building is easily visible from Osaka Castle--and leave Godzilla the hell alone.

Apparently this worked, until 1966. Then Japan built their first nuclear plant in Tokai. Godzilla promptly appeared and destroyed the hell out of that. Somehow Japan's government correctly interpreted this to mean that Godzilla was attracted to nuclear power and would destroy any source of it within his chosen territory. Japan then fulfilled every hippy's dream by outlawing nuclear power and switching to wind, water, and solar energy.

Sadly for the hippies, it was not sufficient to meet Japan's increasing demand for energy. So, in 1996 an experimental form of "plasma energy" was set up in Osaka, which we see government official Motohiko Sugiura (Masato Ibu) gleefully announcing. Everybody was very excited about this, since it as a clean energy that could still do the work of nuclear energy. Who could be opposed to that?
Oh. Right.
The film proper opens in Osaka in 1996, as a squadron of troops commanded by Takuji Miyagawa (Toshiyuki Nagashima, who had rather a more significant role as Colonel Watarase in Gamera 2: Advent of Legion) is being deployed to stop Godzilla before he reaches the experimental reactor. So what awesome experimental weapons are this squad carrying that will allow them to take out Godzilla? Bazookas. No, not laser bazookas, not bazookas with drill rockets, or even homemade bazookas that shoot diamonds--these are regular bazookas. Understandably, the squad needs some serious pep talk from Miyagawa, and he especially focuses his pep talk at Kiriko Tsujimori (Misato Tanaka), who actually seems less "terrified out of her wits" and more "lost in thought" when he calls her to attention.

Well, the pep talk somehow holds even when the squad sees the beast they're supposed to be chasing after with the equivalent of pea shooters. Miyagawa advises them to aim for the legs and for a moment you begin to see the potential wisdom in the strategy. I mean, tanks have no hope of dodging Godzilla, but in theory a small group of infantry should escape his notice and have an easier time dodging his wrath.

Theory does not translate to practice. Human legs are not fast enough to get the troops to safety when Godzilla responds to their attacks by knocking buildings over on top of them. (This is where we get a good idea of how inconsistent the film's effects are--much of this sequence is great, but there's a shot of Godzilla's footsteps knocking over two garbage cans that is just sad) Most of the troops are crushed by Godzilla, succeeding only in delaying the great beast by making it stop its advance just long enough to kill them. Tsujimori waits near the building that is housing the plasma reactor. When Godzilla appears she fires a rocket, in a dramatic shot that leads up to--the rocket exploding harmlessly against Godzilla's chest. He sure looks pissed off as his face appears through the resulting smoke, but this suit always looks pissed.

Tsujimori prepares another rocket, just as Miyagawa appears to drag her away from the hopeless task. She insists on one more shot and it is only by directly ordering her that he gets her to abandon her post. It's too late, however. Godzilla smashes into the building they were defending and a chunk of scaffolding plunges towards them. For some reason, Miyagawa decides to shove Tsujimori out of the rubble's path, but then remains standing in place so he can be crushed by himself. (And despite the significant close-up on the plunging scaffolding in the miniature shots, Miyagawa is crushed by chunks of concrete) Tsujimori recovers his dog tags from the rubble and, having activated her vengeance-driven backstory, she goes ahead and takes that last shot at Godzilla as he continues to tear the building to pieces.

I'm sure Godzilla would probably say it tickled slightly.

Flash forward to 2001, this film's present. Tsujimori, now a Major, is leading a group of official-looking folks through a busy mall in Akhihabara. Their destination is a shop run by a long-haired goofball in a backwards baseball cap named Hajime Kudo (Shosuke Tanihara). He is currently dazzling a group of schoolkids with a magic trick, where he puts a bunch of ingredients on a table next to a spoon, covers the ingredients and spoon with with a bowl for five seconds, and then removes the bowl to reveal a spoon full of curry on rice. Tsujimori ruins Kudo's trick by revealing to the kids that the bowl is actually a microwave oven that contains three tiny robots that mix the ingredients while the bowl cooks them.

In a result that I can only attribute to this being set in Japan, the kids immediately lose interest in Kudo's shop after discovering it was robots all along. They probably see five robots before lunch, but magic is hard to come by. Kudo angrily asks who Tsujimori thinks she is, ruining his street cred like that. Tsujimori advises that she's with The G-Graspers, which is officially the dumbest anti-Godzilla group name in the series' history. I mean, they may be silly, but at least "The Anti-Megalosaurus Force" and "Japan Counter-Xenomorph Self Defense Force" actually sound cool. "G-Grasper" implies you're going to, at best, give Godzilla a purple nurple.

At any rate, The G-Titty Twisters need Kudo's miniature robotics skills, so he is whisked away to their headquarters. There we note that Sugiura is hanging around, brooding over a chess set, and Kudo is introduced to a familiar face--his mentor, Professor Yoshino Yoshizawa (Yuriko Hoshi, better known as the photographer Junko in Mothra vs. Godzilla and reporter Naoko in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster). It's a rather uncomfortable reunion, as Yoshizawa asks Kudo how he feels about joining her team and he makes a joke about not wanting to die young. See, Yoshizawa and her team were inside that building in Osaka that Godzilla was so keen on destroying in 1996, and she's the only one who made it out. Kudo apologizes for being a colossal dick, but Yoshizawa shrugs it off and focuses on her sales pitch.

The G-Gropers have stumbled upon a perfect plan to eradicate Godzilla. Kudo is skeptical. As he sees it, why would they even need to destroy Godzilla? As long as they stop doing shit Godzilla doesn't like, the creature will stay sleeping in some ocean trench indefinitely. Tsujimori and Yoshizawa are both sick of that approach, however. No, they're going to get rid of Godzilla with the greatest secret weapon ever devised, Dimension Tide: an artificial black hole, launched from a satellite-mounted cannon. As Yoshizawa explains, not even light waves can escape a black hole so Godzilla will be unable to avoid being sucked into the singularity and no longer be a problem.

Kudo somehow reacts to this plan--of launching possibly the most destructive force in the universe at planet Earth to kill a creature that can destroy, at most, one city a day--with enthusiastic approval. Yosihizawa explains that they need Kudo because, while they can create the black hole, they have no idea how to make it small enough to be launched from a satellite. Yes, that is clearly the trouble with this strategy.

Honestly, this whole plot line is hilariously indicative of how much pop culture can change over the years. In the original Godzilla, Dr. Serizawa agonizes about the device he is created that could reduce a large body of water to a lifeless void because he fears the destructive power of the thing falling into the hands of governments who would only see its marvelous potential as a weapon of mass destruction. He is reluctant to use it against Godzilla because he fears it is more terrifying than  the beast itself. Obviously, it's as much a nuclear allegory as a plot device--what if we could prevent nuclear weapons, but the weapon that replaced them was even more horrible? Meanwhile, just under 50 years later, this film give us a bunch of doofuses who have created a black hole cannon, which could destroy the entire planet, and nobody ever seems bothered by that in the film. It kind of goes to show how even nuclear weapons, the most destructive force humanity has ever created, have stopped actually scaring anyone--even in the one country that knows their true horror.

Anyway, Kudo joins the project. It's not a moment too soon, as a satellite monitor indicates Godzilla is stirring in the ocean trench he calls home. Sugiura urges Yoshizawa and Tsujimori to get that project ready in a hurry.

They get it ready in a hurry, all right, and set up a test firing outside a small village in the countryside. For some reason, they have decided this test will be top secret. I mean, it's not like Godzilla is going to catch wind of it and the rest of the world will probably be a bit irate that Japan has developed the most destructive weapon ever in total secret. Still, that's the plan and they block off the roads. Unfortunately, they didn't factor in...The Kenny.

Well, in this case his name is Jun (Suzuki Hiroyuki), but he's a Kenny. His mother is busy packing for their upcoming move to Tokyo, but like most kids Jun decides a better use of his time is running off to show a friend his bug collection. A road block doesn't stop him from going through the woods and watching as the G-Graspers point their huge Black Hole Cannon at what appears to be an abandoned school building. (Cue Alice Cooper) As everyone is getting set up, Yoshizawa and Sugiura have a significant exchange about how plasma energy made Dimension Tide possible and after Godzilla is destroyed it is vital that no trace of plasma energy remain. Sugiura gets a bad case of the shifty eyes at this.

Kudo excitedly gives the trigger to Yoshizawa, saying she'll go down in history. And how! Everyone puts on protective glasses--except for Jun, obviously--and the Dimension Tide is fired. Naturally it's all glowy and bright, despite sucking in all light waves. Also, somehow the black hole goes to the exact target, strafing the ground, and after it obliterates the building it vanishes, leaving behind a crater. How they guaranteed the black hole would A) travel, B) stop at its target, and C) cease to exist once it destroyed the target is never addressed. It's probably for the best, since any attempt to apply actual physics to this movie is madness.

Well, the black hole actually leaves something else behind: a shimmering in the air that Yoshizawa identifies as a wormhole, or a rift in time and space. Everyone marvels that such a thing exists, and once it seemingly vanishes they forget all about it. Never mind the terrifying implications of tearing a hole in the fabric of reality! Tsujimori is called away because a guard has found Jun. Her response is to tell Jun to keep this their little secret. Sadly, she sticks to that approach instead of a bullet to the skull even after Jun asks why a woman is fighting Godzilla.

You might think I'm being harsh by suggesting this kid should have been killed. Well, I'm not. See, that night Jun sees a strange shadow pass over is window and goes into the woods to investigate. The shadow belongs to a giant dragonfly, 2 meters long, which Jun watches fly back through that wormhole nobody gave a crap about. Jun discovers that the dragonfly laid a huge egg in a puddle--and takes the egg with him. And by with him, I mean for the move to Tokyo. In his family's new apartment, Jun notices that the egg is getting slimy and decides to...put it out for the garbage. When a neighbor foils that plan by telling him he has to bring garbage down tomorrow, when there's actual collection, the little twerp dumps the egg down a storm drain.

Remember how I said the egg's mother was a dragonfly? Well, where do dragonflies like to lay their eggs? That's right, in water. And it turns out that the egg is actually an egg case, and smaller eggs bud off after it sinks to the bottom of the sewer...

Kudo, meanwhile, is bothering Tsujimori when she's trying to work out by hitting on her. He also offers her a special round that he claims is a standard ammo round, but with a satellite tracker in it. In an emergency, she can just shoot it at something and the cavalry will come running. However, Kudo notices Miyagawa's dog tags and that kills any attempt at conversation. One of the grunts in the gym explains to Kudo that he was part of the doomed bazooka troop at the beginning, and that Tsujimori has sworn vengeance on Godzilla. Tsujimori then tests the tracking bullet by loading it into what appears to be a Very pistol (so much for being a standard round) and shooting it at a free weight.

Meanwhile, a strange flooding has started in Tokyo. Jun notices it in a back alley during the day and seemingly begins to realize he may have doomed the world. That night, a pair of bumbling Abbott & Costello-esque public works guys are investigating a similar sot where the payment is cracked and water is bubbling up. As they argue about overtime and the need for an excavator, they fail to notice a gigantic bug about 2 meters long, which we will later come to know as a Meganulon, watching them hungrily from its perch on the wall of a nearby building. Unfortunately, the bug decides it doesn't want to eat them and retreats.

Unfortunately for a young couple happily walking down the street, they appear more appetizing. The young woman goes to buy them a beer and the man waits for her in an alley listening to his headphones--and the Meganulon strikes. It's a rather shockingly brutal attack, too, presented in quick cuts. The Meganulon spits some kind of green liquid at the guy, which makes the sequence seem rather bloody when in fact the gore is actually all implied. When the woman returns, she finds his slimy headphones before the Meganulon spits in her face and drags her behind a fence to discretely kill her offscreen.

"I'm your boyfriend now!"
We next see ther Meganuon as it climbs up a building and sheds its skin like a cicada, to become the kind of giant dragonfly we saw earlier--which we'll soon learn is a Meganula. More on that in a minute, first I need to address the Meganulon.

Now, if the name "Meganulon" means anything to you, then you're exactly the same kind of nerd as I am. If it doesn't, well, allow me to explain: the Meganulon was introduced in Rodan, the 1956 film that also introduced the giant pterosaur we all know and love. There, they attack a town of coal miners before a pair of Rodans hatch and devour the killer insects that they tower over. The Meganulons never made another appearance, but they were very memorable and thus remained very popular in the Godzilla fandom. The original creatures looked something like a caterpillar and a scorpion got involved in a teleportation accident.

Meganulon, original recipe.
Well, when Godzilla vs. Megaguirus was announced, a lot of the early press was about how Godzilla's foe would be derived from the Meganulons. It would be an exaggeration to say it was a major selling point, but it was definitely a selling point. So you'd think this new, improved Meganulon would get a fair amount of screentime.

Meganulon, extra crispy.
However, I've just described to you the extent of the Meganulon's appearance in the film. You can barely see it--in order to make its attack on the couple more horrifying--and it's little more than a cameo. Like I said, though, we're talking about a creature that was little more than a way to get the plot in motion in its original film, so it's not like this alone would be enough to ruin the film. It's just a very bizarre way of going about things.

At any rate, the Meganula that hatched buzzes Jun's new apartment and the little twerp finally realizes that maybe he should call Tsujimori. Tsujimori takes the path of assuring Jun that it's not his fault that he brought an egg he new belonged to a giant monster to a crowded city and dumped it into a sewer so it could hatch and kill people. Jun shows her a book he has about prehistoric animals and explains the creature is a giant prehistoric dragonfly called Meganula. (I will note here that Meganuon and Meganula are derived from the name of an actual creature, Meganeura, that was a giant dragonfly--though obviously nowhere near as large) Tsujimori thanks Jun for letting her know about the Meganula...

...and then does nothing about it until a satellite photo shows an annoyed Godzilla firing his flame breath at a giant dragonfly. Tsujimori and her G-Grasper crew take the Griffon, a super-advanced fighter plane, out to where the confrontation took place. Godzilla apparently went right back under the ocean after killing the Meganula, so Tsujimori and another crew member head down in a raft to take samples from the dead dragonfly.

And then Godzilla rises back to the surface, directly beneath them. Tsujimori stays with the raft after sending her underling back up. Godzilla surfacing knocks Tsujimori into the water and, in one of the film's coolest sequences, she swims over to Godzilla as the creature cruises through the waves like an enormous crocodile. I can't adequately express how ecstatically happy it always makes me to see Godzilla swimming this way.

"Target Locked. Fire missiles to commit suicide."
Now, you may ask why the hell Tsujimori has decided to become the first person to ever climb on Godzilla's back. (In the actual films, at least) After all, even her Radiation "Alart" [sic] badge is loudly beeping at her to say how bad an idea this is. Well, it turns out she has decided to shoot Godzilla with Kudo's tracking bullet.

That's right, she risked radiation poisoning to tag Godzilla. Godzilla. The 55-meter tall radioactive dinosaur that they can clearly follow by satellite already. Boy, that sure was a good reason to risk your life, Major.

In fact, a SGS ("Search Godzilla System"--yes, really) device is dropped by the Griffon to follow Godzilla under water after Tsujimori is knocked off his back and it seems to have no trouble following him with or without the tracking bullet. Well, her decision sure looked cool, at least. Back at G-Grasper HQ, a Scientist explains that the creature Godzilla killed was definitely a Meganula. This Scientist has clearly stepped out of a Showa film--though more likely Showa Gamera than Showa Godzilla--as he looks vaguely like Colonel Sanders and makes pronouncements about prehistoric animals he has no way of knowing. Like that Meganula lived in huge swarms (a reasonable assertion) and was extremely aggressive (which he could not know based on fossil evidence alone).

Despite his impressive knowledge, even he's a bit shocked when someone rushes into the room, pulling a "Quick, Turn On The News" and they discover that the Shibuya district of Tokyo has flooded. And I mean flooded up to a god five stories. Somehow, the Meganula are responsible for this. Kudo confirms this when he provides a mini-SGS device to the military and its camera sends back footage of huge batches of eggs under all the water.

Meanwhile, Dimension Tide has been launched into space and Tsujimori and Sugiura have made a presentation to the top brass assuring them that they are ready to lure Godzilla to an uninhabited island (because they are uncertain if a black hole will work through water, for some reason) and kill him with the weapon. This is news to Kudo and Yoshizawa, who confront Tsujimori and Sugiura when they return to HQ. DT hasn't been fully calibrated, they argue, but their objections are overruled and the plan goes ahead.

Griffon and several ordinary fighter planes--F-22s, I think--antagonize Godzilla with torpedoes until the creature pursues them. Honestly, I think Griffon should have done the job alone, since it's so much more manueverable than the other fighters that it ends up dodging the inevitable return fire--and thus gets most of the other planes destroyed and their pilots killed when they can't dodge it. Ignoring the death of their comrades, Griffon successfully lures Godzilla to the island with blasts from their photon gun.

Well, there's about to a be a major fly in the ointment--a dragonfly to be precise. Back in Shibuya, a boat full of soldiers carrying dynamite in order to blow up those eggs has discovered that their quarry has already hatched and entire buildings are covered with Meganulons that are busy hatching into Meganula. I'm not sure if the film wants you to remember the fact that one Meganulon earlier had to eat two people before it could moult into an adult, but if so that means that Jun is now responsible for the deaths of thousands of people even before you factor in anybody who was surely killed by the rapid flooding. Good job, Kenny!

While some of the Meganulons and Megaula are killed by the soldiers' gunfire, the vast majority successfuly moult and take flight. However, it seems that unlike their nymph stage they have no interest in human flesh as they don't attack the soldiers, although the force of their wings knocks some of the soldiers out of the boat, but instead the Meganula just fly out to sea. You can guess where they're going. Sure enough, they're going after Godzilla.

In fact, the swarm arrives just as Godzilla is getting into the perfect position for Dimension Tide to lock on to him. Somehow the dragonflies make establishing a target lock impossible, despite the fact it's a visual lock and Godzilla is still clearly visible through the swarm. Well, after Godzilla decides to blast several of the Meganula out the sky, the swarm descends on him.

This sequence is not exactly original. In Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, several small Destoroyahs swarm over Godzilla--but the sequence here is much closer to Gamera 2: Advent of Legion where Gamera is swarmed by the insectoid Legion soldiers and gets the bejesus stung out of him. Godzilla fares somewhat better here. The Meganula sting him all over, yes, but they are doing so in order to drain energy from him and they don't thoroughly cover him like the Legion did to Gamera. As such, Godzilla has an easier time squashing them with claws, feet, tail, and jaws--and then the radiation from his glowing dorsal plates fries several of them before his flame breath kills hundreds more.

I'm going to warn you now, this is the best fight in the film.

Godzilla doesn't get to gloat too long over his victory as he has cleared enough of his foes for a target lock to be effective. DT is fired and Godzilla gets one hell of a surprise when a Black Hole strikes the island. After the singularity vanishes--no doubt having this time unleashed a school of voracious giant sea scorpions unto the world--Griffon crusises over the crater and hordes of dead or stunned Meganula to confirm the kill. Unfortunately, it turns out that even the most destructive force in the universe is worthless if you miss the target. That's right, a very angry and bewildered Godzilla bursts out of a pile of fall rocks. DT takes an hour to cool down, so there's no chance of firing again. After a significant glance back over his shoulder at Griffon, Godzilla follows the swarm of Meganula as they fly back to Tokyo.

Tsujimori blames Kudo for the foul-up, he blames her for not listening to them when they told her they weren't ready. He'd have a much stronger case if he didn't follow this up by trying to put a hand on her, which triggers her self-defense training to shut him down. Luckily, Yoshizawa breaks it up or Kudo would be missing an arm. Yoshizawa advises that next time it will work.

Now, despite the fact that it would seem safe to assume that Godzilla is following his foes back to their lair to retaliate, Tsujimori suspects that he's heading to Tokyo for another reason. Like maybe somebody's been working on plasma energy in secret. Yoshizawa looks to Sugiura, who gets a bad case of "WE'RE NOT HIDING ANYTHING" and excuses himself. Sugiura makes a phone call to some anonymous shady government official, saing he thought that the plant had been shut down and assuring the person on the other end that it won't come back on them. He then hangs up and agrily knocks all the pieces off his chess set--which appears to be the exact reason he keeps it around.

I should do that. It must be very cathartic until you have to pick up the pieces.

In Shibuya, the Meganula dive under he water and swim down to what appears to be an enormous Meganulon, 50 meters long. This Meganulon is pretty much immobile, and the Meganula sting it in order to feed the energy they harvested from Godzilla. Once the energy is all transferred, the Meganula float to the surface, dead. The huge Meganulon then begins to moult...

That night, Kudo is at the camp for a bunch of soldiers just outside the flood zone. The mini-SGS devices that he gave them are all malfunctioning, and Kudo can't figure out why. It suddenly occurs to him that maybe it's something magnetic under the water: just as the surface of the water begins to churn. As Kudo and the soldiers watch, the water explodes--and a giant dragonfly appears, hovering above the water. The emphasis here is far more on dragon than fly.

"Sir Small can't save you now!"
We'll shortly learn this is Megaguirus. It takes no time at all, though, to learn that Megaguirus is not a very good monster. She's basically an enhanced version of Battra, which is is cool on the surface--except she is supposed to be an enormous dragonfly, but she flaps her wings leisurely like Mothra. She's also an incredibly stiff puppet and even when the wires holding her up are actually obscured, she still wobbles awkwardly on them.

Worst of all is that, occasionally, she flaps her wings rapidly. This causes some kind of sonic attack (?!), but the effects are terrible. Somehow the rapid flapping effect for the Meganula was just fine but the effects artists just could not make it work for Megaguirus. Well, she uses her sonic attack to bring half of Shibuya down on the soldiers and Kudo...

...but Kudo wakes up in the G-Grasper's hospital wing with only a fractured arm in a cast and some miscellaneous bandages. The all-knowing scientist decides only now to explain that the Meganula species has a queen called Megaguirus. Thanks a lot, jerk. However, the G-Graspers aren't really all that concerned about the species of rapidly reproducing, man-eating giant insects that can now destroy cities. This is mainly because Godzilla is now in Tokyo Bay.

Tokyo is evacuated, Griffon is scrambled to intercept--in a really cool bit where Godzilla's surfacing is counted down by the amount of meters to the surface and his rising from the ocean is accompanied by Akira Ifukube's classic Godzilla theme--and DT is geared up for another shot. Yes, they're going to fire a black hole on Tokyo. Well, at least that's the plan before Megaguirus reappears from wherever she buggered off to earlier, dramatically flying over Griffon. Megaguirus starts off her fight with Godzilla by attacking with her sound wave attack. This somehow forces Griffon out of the air, overloads the power at the G-Grasper HQ, and wreaks havoc with the DT satellite. Yes, the satellite that's in space. No, I don't get it, either.

It also somehow crashes the DT computer system and wipes out all of the backups. Did Megaguirus give their system a virus?! And then the DT satellite just starts to drop out of orbit. By which I mean straight down. That's...that's not how orbit works. That's not how any of this works!

Luckily, Kudo comes to rescue even in his injured state. He plugs in his laptop and sets to work with his self-made anti-virus program, which for some reason involves a chibi sexy nurse animated graphic. Now that repairing system paths is required, the nurse turns into--a sexy chibi animated graphic of Tsujimori with a jet pack and a laser blaster. Yes, he based his program on a woman he works with and has a crush on. No, that's not creepy at all.

"You brute, you brute, you brute!"
Meanwhile--oh, God. *sigh* Meanwhile, easily the candidate for worst kaiju battle ever is taking place. Where to even begin? Most of the fight is a badly animated Megaguirus using her buzzing wings to dart in and out of frame, occasionally smacking Godzilla before dodging his flame breath. Eventually, she stings him in what appears to be the crotch (ouch!) and begins draining energy from him, which prevents him from using his flame breath on her. She then throws him into a building and then--her lipless mouth curling into a smile via bad digital manipulation--knocks the rest of the building onto his head. This causes him to stand up and shake his head to clear it, like Ash shaking off his cartoonishly stretched face in Army of Darkness after picking the wrong book.

Godzilla turns the tide by cutting off one of her claws with his plates, before planting her tail into the ground and...*sigh*...leaping a mile into the air and body slamming her. Did I wander into "Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley" by mistake?

It's less hard to believe Godzilla actually flying.
Megaguirus retaliates by channeling the energy from her opponent into a fireball and launching it at him. Godzilla does a double take at this, then falls over after it hits him. However, when Megaguirus tries to sting Godzilla one last time, he catches her stinger in his teeth and dramatically bites it off. It takes just two blasts of flame breath before Megaguirus goes up in flames and then blows up spectacularly.

Well, at least that's over.

Big Bug-Da-Boom!
Godzilla is on a mission, however. He continues on through Tokyo, including a shot that "comically" implies that Godzilla just casually walked across a now-crumbling suspension bridge. Oof.

Eventually, Godzilla finds his way to one specific building and begins smashing it. Tsujimori and Yoshizawa confront Sugiura on a rooftop overlooking the carnage. Yep, Sugiura knew that plasma energy research was still going on in secret. Tsujimori slugs him for his duplicity, but then Kudo reaches her via radio and lets er know that DT is back up and running. They have just enough time for one shot before it burns up in re-entry. Unfortunately, they can't lock onto Godzilla. Tsujimori takes the controls of Griffon and tells Kudo to lock onto Griffon's signal after she flies high above the city.

Once the target is locked, she sends Griffon into a dive bomb and orders Kudo to fire just as she ejects. Poor Godzilla gets hit with an exploding super-plane and set on fire. (And I do mean on fire: there's behind the scenes footage out there of suit actor Tsutomu Kitagawa immediately falling to the ground as technicians hurriedly rush over to extinguish the flames before they urn through the suit) DT fires and the satellite is blown to pieces. Godzilla sees the black hole coming and tries to use his flame breath on it--but this time, it hits him directly.

The smoke clears, Tsujimori lands safely, and everyone rejoices: Godzilla is gone. ...Or is he? The film ends with Tsujimori visiting Kudo at his old shop because mysterious seismic activity has been reported that could suggest Godzilla somehow broke out of the Black Hole. Well, that or they missed again. It could also be that they released Cthulhu. At any rate, we get the comedy freeze-frame ending after Tsujmori bumps Kudo's broken arm...

...and then at the end of the credits, we see Jun at school. Apparently, there is some justice in the world because this credit cookie implies that Jun witnesses Godzilla breaking free of the ground. I say justice because we freeze on Jun's face as Godzilla's roar echoes and I choose to believe Godzilla then squashes the little turd.

There's a rather old saying, "Sex is like pizza: even when it's bad it's still pretty good." If you have ever had bad sex or bad pizza, you know that saying is full of shit. However, I bring it up simply to say that even when a Godzilla movie is bad, it's still pretty good.

See, every Godzilla movie--with one notable exception--has a notable advantage over any other movie in that it contains Godzilla. That automatically elevates even the worst Godzilla movie over dreck like Transformers: The Dark of the Moon. So, while Godzilla vs. Megaguirus is very bad indeed, I have still seen the damn thing numerous times and would happily see it yet again if someone asked me immediately after I finished this review.

It has Godzilla in it.

Truth be told, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus gets a lot right before it suddenly begins to get everything wrong. Sure, the Dimension Tide is fucking ridiculous, but if the rest of the film was as enjoyable as about the first half, I could roll with it. I mean, the first half has the recreation of Godzilla's 1954 attack, some neat world-building, and a good set-up for its characters and their mission. Hell, as awful as the trope of "the kid who dooms the world by playing around with monster eggs" is, even the way the Meganulons/Meganula are introduced is pretty great.

But then Megaguirus shows up and everything takes a nose dive. Not only is Megaguirus not horribly convincing as a puppet, but the flying effects for her during the fight look like something out of a Terry Gilliam cartoon with photo cut-outs banging into each other, Also, it's after her introduction that the film suddenly switches from a serious film with a serious Showa influence

I'm actually not sure what to call it. A parody of the silliest Showa films, like Godzilla vs. Megalon? A slapstick comedy with giant monsters? We're talking a film that features a young couple brutally devoured by a giant nightmare water bug, but then suddenly has Godzilla doing a Three Stooges routine. Given that the rest of the film seems to actually be serious, I'm left to wonder if the final fight's bizarre tone is a result of the filmmakers realizing that the effects for the sequence were subpar and deciding to play it for laughs.

Though really the incongruity of the tone for the final fight is indicative of Megaguirus herself. There's a concept called "The Sexy Lamp" that tests how disposable a film considers its female characters by asking if anything would change if the female character was replaced by a sexy lamp. Well, given that she's an enormous insect, Megaguirus isn't exactly what the concept has in mind, but honestly replacing her with a sexy lamp would improve the film.

Consider for a moment exactly what Megaguirus contributes to the film. Try to think how the film would be affected if she weren't in it at all, if this was just the story of the JSDF trying to use a Black Hole Gun to rid the world of Godzilla and there was no other monster. Oh, there'd have to be an explanation for why Dimension Tide wasn't working after Godzilla arrived in Tokyo, but that's about the only thing Megaguirus truly brings to the film. There's never even a moment where the G-Graspers have to consider that Megaguirus is a bigger threat than Godzilla or see her as an unlikely ally. She's just a thing that shows up, messes with their equipment, and then gets killed by Godzilla. Again, the most rewarding battle in the film is Godzilla versus a swarm of bugs, while the fight between Godzilla and their queen is absolutely terrible.

Well, terrible to my tastes. My one-year-old son seemed bizarrely delighted by that final fight. However, he also tries to eat napkins so his taste is questionable.

So the main villain monster is an utter disappointment, how do the rest fare? Well, the practical effects for the Meganulons and Meganula are pretty good, even if the miniature ones are very obviously miniature. The CGI versions are hit or miss. It's more miss than hit, but they still look better than the digital effects for Megaguirus. Godzilla looks great, however. Sure, it's just the Godzilla 2000 suit being reused, but that was a great suit. The CGI Godzilla that shows up in some of the ocean scenes is way better than the one in Godzilla 2000, however.

The human characters are adequate at best, really. With the exception of Jun, who is well-acted but a horrible character, none of them make much of an impression whether good or bad. Misato Tanaka does a fine job as Tsujimori, but while she brings a lot of charm to the role the character is ultimately just too flat. The rest of the central characters are even blander, and bordering on creepy in Kudo's case. However, they do fulfill their job as filler between monster scenes.

The score by Michiru Oshima is wonderful, which is a major point in its favor.And Masaaki Tezuka would get two more tries at helming a Godzilla movie after this. Luckily, he showed that he can do much, much better than this. But that's a tale for another time.

I certainly can't recommend Godzilla vs. Megaguirus to a non-fan, but I'm honestly a bit hesitant to recommend it to anyone. As Godzilla films go, I might not put it at the very bottom of the barrel but it is damned close. However, despite its myriad flaws it still has the most important thing going for it:

It has Godzilla in it.

This is my first entry in the June Bugs roundtable. The other entries are below.

Checkpoint Telstar:
The Naked Jungle
The Deadly Mantis

Cinemasochist Apocalypse:
Caved In: Prehistoric Terror

Micro-Brewed Reviews:

No comments:

Post a Comment